Patriots impressed by Flacco's poise

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Patriots impressed by Flacco's poise

FOXBORO -- Which quarterback has the postseason's best passer rating?
Joe Flacco. 
Baltimore's signal caller tops the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning with his 102.5 playoff rating. He has the highest yards per attempt average (10.75), most touchdowns (5), fewest interceptions (0), and second-most yards per game (307). 
The numbers from two performances alone don't answer the question of whether or not Flacco is an elite quarterback, but they do mean something. A win over the Patriots in this weekend's AFC Championship would mean something more. 
A fact New England is acutely aware of. 
"He's a great quarterback, I don't care what nobody says about him," Vince Wilfork said Wednesday. "One thing he does is stay poised. No matter how bad things get or how good things are. He is a tough quarterback. He is a competitor and it shows. He is putting his team in good situations. He doesnt turn the ball over much. When they ask him to make plays he has made them. He seems to always have a good game against us. He is a very, very physically and mentally tough football player."
Flacco's Ravens are 1-2 against the Patriots in playoff games. Personally, the quarterback has thrown seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. He bested Tom Brady when their teams met in September, completing 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in Baltimore's 31-30 win. 
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said there are a few fundamental reasons why Flacco presents such a challenge.
"Id say his ability to number one, not turn the ball over and number two, to make big plays, and number three, to score points, which theyve scored a lot of points this year which is really what the name of the game is. Its about points, not all the other stats that we sometimes like to throw out there. Those are the areas that he's excelled in. And I think if you're scoring points, youre not turning the ball over, then probably playing pretty well."
Wilfork circled back to Flacco's composure, which was exemplified in the quarterback's work last weekend. The Divisional Playoff between the Ravens and Broncos featured four ties. Every time a lead was grasped it was done by the Broncos. But whenever Flacco looked undone, he managed to reign it in. 
There was that three play, 36-second stunner of a scoring drive before halftime that featured passes of 11, 15, and 32 yards. 
Decision making? Check. 
There was that 70-yard touchdown bomb fired to Jacoby Jones that forced overtime. 
Accuracy? Check. Arm strength? Check. 
"No matter how bad it gets, he seems to block everything out and play football and it showed again last week against Denver," said Wilfork. "Throughout the course of the game it wasnt perfect, but he made the throw and they made the catch for him. It said a lot about that football team. 
"He is definitely one of the tougher quarterbacks in this league. He has a big heart and he plays to win."
Winning Sunday? That would be the most convincing vote of confidence Flacco could get. 

First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

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First impressions: Royals' five-run first inning dooms Red Sox in 6-3 loss

First impressions from the Red Sox' 6-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals:

 

Steven Wright recovered nicely after the first inning, but the damage was done.

Wright's last five innings featured just three hits allowed -- one in the infield. But the first inning did the Red Sox in -- two walks followed by a three-run homer, then a single and a two-run homer.

Whether this was a matter of rust for Wright -- who last pitched three weeks ago Friday night -- or an early inability to command his knuckleball is uncertain.

The fact is, Wright dug an early hole for his teammates, and he had the misfortune to do so against a team with the best bullpen in baseball.

To his credit, Wright kept the game somewhat within reach thereafter, but the five-run head start proved too much of a jump.

 

It's time to worry a little about Jackie Bradley.

Bradley was just 7-for-40 in the just-completed road trip, and things didn't get any better on the first night of the homestand.

In the first, he came up with two on and two out and struck out swinging to strand both baserunners. In the third, he came to the plate with runners on the corners and, again, struck out swinging.

We're seeing the same kind of slump that Bradley fell into in previous seasons, where even contact is hard to find, with nine strikeouts in the last 16 at-bats.

Problem is, with Andrew Benitendi on the DL, there aren't a lot of options for John Farrell with the Red Sox outfield.

 

Trying to get Fernando Abad and Junichi Tazawa back on track in low- leverage mop-up didn't work.

Tazawa had a perfect seventh, but gave up a monster shot into the center field bleachers to Lorenzo Cain to start the eighth.

Abad entered, and while he did record a couple of strikeouts, also gave up a single, a walk and threw a wild pitches before he could complete the inning.

Getting some work for the two was the right idea, given that the Sox were down by three runs at the time. A good outing might help either regain some confidence and turn the corner.

But not even that could be accomplished Friday night.

 

Brady comes off the bench to throw TD in his preseason debut

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Brady comes off the bench to throw TD in his preseason debut

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - There will be a moment in the days between September 3 and October 3 when Tom Brady stops what he’s doing, sets his jaw and mutters, “*$%^## Derby…”

During his first – and perhaps only action of the 2016 preseason – Brady had some very good plays, was let down by a few drops (like Derby’s on a third-down toss) and had a near pick on a downfield throw to Martellus Bennett.

Brady was in for four possessions, entering the game after Jimmy Garoppolo ran the team on the Patriots first three series.

Brady missed the first preseason game then plunged trainer’s scissors into his thumb just prior to the second preseason game and missed that one as well.

With a fair amount of buildup to this game, Brady’s first pass was a deep in-cut to Aaron Dobson that went for 37 yards after Dobson stepped out of a tackle.

That was followed by a crossing pattern drop by Julian Edelman and a high throw to the end zone on third-and-5 that doinked off the left hand of tight end Bennett under the goalpost. Seemed like a mistimed jump on the high throw over the hands of a couple defenders.

On Brady’s next series, a pair of Tyler Gaffney runs gained 20 before Brady dropped a fade in to the hands of Chris Hogan for a 32-yard touchdown. It couldn’t have been placed any better if Brady had been allowed to walk to Hogan and hand it to him.

Brady’s conversion pass to Dobson was incomplete.

The Patriots got another chunk play from LeGarrette Blount to start their next drive and Brady then hit Edelman for 6. But his throw to the left sideline on third-and-4 was bungled by Derby, ending the drive.

Brady’s final series was bleak. His first throw was batted down by Kawann Short. His second one, a deep throw across the field to Bennett after Brady stepped up in the pocket, should have been picked by Kurt Coleman. Brady was sacked on third down.

Garoppolo came in for the final two series of the first half and started the third quarter.

Brady spent much of the first quarter apart from the offense when it was on the sidelines, standing with arms folded. When the offense was on the field, Brady mostly sat by himself on the bench. There wasn’t any significant interaction between he and Garoppolo, who huddled with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels after his series’ ended. Brady did the same after he came off the field with Garoppolo hovering nearby.

Brady finished 3-for-9 for 76 yards and a touchdown. As a team, the Patriots were 0-for-7 on third down in the first half. 

First half Patriots observations: Brady and Long up, Garoppolo and Solder down

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First half Patriots observations: Brady and Long up, Garoppolo and Solder down

The Patriots had their share of good and bad in the first half of their preseason game with the Panthers on Friday. Here's who we saw as some of the team's top performers, as well as some of the players who may have to make some corrections in the second half. 

* Tom Brady was only 3-for-9 in his four series, but he completed his passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown pass to Chris Hogan might have been the best throw of the preseason for any Patriots quarterback as he hit Hogan in stride, over the shoulder, for a 33-yard gain. Brady was close to having a second touchdown pass, but it glanced off the out-stretched hands tight end Martellus Bennett in the back of the end zone. Brady was nearly picked on his final drive, again trying to hit Bennett. He was sacked on his final play of the half.

* Jimmy Garoppolo had a difficult time early in this one. He was 5-for-9 for 37 yards, and he picked up an intentional grounding penalty. Garoppolo also was strip-sacked by Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, but James White recovered. Garoppolo was nearly picked by Luke Kuechly early in the first quarter when there was an apparent miscommunication between Garoppolo and Julian Edelman. 

* Chris Long had a standout half with two pressures, a pass-breakup that led to a Devin McCourty pick, and he drew a hold. The veteran defensive end has shown a good motor and a knack for getting to the quarterback in each of New England's first three preseason games. 

* Logan Ryan also had a strong first half in his preseason debut. His first five targets in coverage resulted in no completions, an offensive pass interference penalty and an interception. His former college teammate Duron Harmon also had a pick of Panthers backup Derek Anderson.

* Nate Solder allowed the pressure that eventually led to the sack of Brady by Kony Ealy. He also was flagged for a false start. Being that it's the third preseason game -- when starters typically go deep into the game -- he'll likely have a chance to redeem himself in the second half.